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Form Field Best Practice and Hints to Assure Wary Users

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Forms – such an integral part of any website wishing to gather visitor data to allow for transactions to be carried out, logging in to account areas, website personalisation, registrations, competition entries, the list goes on.

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Although in principle forms are simply different drop downs, text entry boxes and preference setting checkboxes and radio buttons, the visual and coding execution of forms can be the difference between an abandoned shopping journey and a new customer transaction, registration or application.

Checkout process forms

Crucial to an e-commerce websites success, these forms in general request personal information, delivery information and finally payment information.

Best practise advice for checkout process forms

  • ensure a visitor is provided highly visible and clear sign-posting as to a) how many steps are in the process flow b) which stage of the process they are in c) which stages have they have completed – view a article I have written on checkout best practice, which talks about some of these best practise points
  • ensure it is clear to a visitor which fields are required and which are optional
  • only request personal information which is required for them to complete the process (ask for more general personal information such as shopping habits and general interests in registration forms and newsletter sign-ups)
  • provide context sensitive advice and information to assure wary users who may be unsure as to why they need to supply a specific piece of information, or a good example is visitors unsure what the ‘CSV’ number on the back of their credit or debit card is
  • provide relevant security and payment certificates to alleviate safety concerns, especially true for a business without a solid and well know reputation
  • allow a user to go back to a previous stage in the process without losing the information they have already keyed in (if this happens visitor frustration will occur, which can quickly be followed by a complete abandonment of the checkout process)
  • on submission of form information, where a user has incorrectly entered data or not completed a required, provide friendly, inline messages at the point of the form where the error has occurred, along with an overview at the top of the form as to what fields require attention
  • ensure it is clear as to what will be the next occurrence once this submit a form ie. which stage they are moving, whether payment details will be processed by a secure server etc
  • prior to finally submitting an order, provide a summary of all the data the user has entered, allowing them (but not encouraging) to edit data if it is incorrect
  • once an order has been placed and approved, provide the user with a printer-friendly, clear and user friendly summary of their order details (removing the digits from their credit or debit card of course!)
  • errors pages – test, test and further test form processing prior to going live, as a page error (not to be confused with an error message displayed due to an empty required field for instance) displayed to a user is 1 significant way to make the alarm bells for user trust and confidence ring very loudly

I’m sure there will be more comprehensive best practise guides available for checkout process forms, but I hope this provides some tangible and clear guides as to the key areas of this process which I have experienced as having the most impact on conversion and drop-out rates.

Google Checkout is gathering momentum

Leveradging its global brand recognition and trust, Google now offers a new checkout solution, surprisingly titled Google Checkout. For a shopper, once they have provided their personal, delivery and payment details into their secure system once, as they visit E-commerce sites offering Google Checkout the visitor doesn’t have to re-enter all their details. For a seller, simply using a checkout system by such a trusted brand will not only streamline their checkout process for their customers, but the whole online trust issue amongst consumers will be negated, because it is Google.

I will be following the uptake by both consumer and businesses of this new checkout, as I don’t doubt for one second that it will prove to be another highly successful revenue stream for Google.

Form field hints for developers

For developers out there keen to provide inline and context sensitive form field hints, take a look at this interesting article on www.askthecssguy.com entitled form field hints with css and html

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